This year’s En Primeur offer brings you a compact selection of wines from some of Italy’s finest producers. It includes fabulous, mineral whites from Borgo del Tiglio, a leading light of Collio in Friuli, but otherwise focuses on Piedmont and Tuscany. It is therefore an opportunity to reflect on the nuances in terroir across these two great regions, not least with the newly released 2017 Baroli – classically structured and extraordinarily site-expressive despite a warm, dry growing season.
Barbareschi from Guido Rivella and the irrepressible Valter Fissore at Elvio Cogno will also catch the eye, as will Potazzine’s Brunello di Montalcino from the outstanding 2016 vintage. Evidently, top producers of Italy’s most lauded wines refuse to rest on their laurels, and their pursuit of excellence in the vineyard and winery extends to those wines’ “younger siblings”, such as Cerbaiona’s Rosso di Montalcino and the Barolo Cascina Nuova from Elvio Cogno. More fruit-driven and immediate, yet capable of ageing gracefully, they represent tremendous value for money.
In a similar vein – albeit categorically a wine for the long haul – is Mauro Franchino’s ethereal Gattinara: 100% Nebbiolo (known here as Spanna) from the north-west of Piedmont, where the grape historically struggled to ripen but is today thriving, thanks to warmer vintages, improved viticulture and more tightly controlled yields.
A special mention too for Chianti Classico, an appellation that has been motoring for some years now. In Monica Larner’s words, ‘No other Italian wine appellation matches Chianti Classico at the moment for its sense of excitement, innovation and, dare I say it, unity of vision.’ The renaissance of the DOCG as a whole has highlighted the distinctions between its subzones, with the southerly communes of Gaiole in Chianti and Castelnuovo Berardenga (home to Rocca di Montegrossi and Castell’in Villa respectively) recognised as producing some of Chianti Classico’s most complex and age-worthy wines.
While every wine in the offer has been tasted by the Stannary team, the tastings took place not in Italian cellars but in kitchens, dining rooms and our office in the UK, often with the winemaker beamed-in via Zoom. The settings may have been less evocative, but that did nothing to diminish the majesty of the wines. There follows a brief snapshot of each of the vintages featured in the offer, as well as individual producer profiles throughout the brochure.
It goes without saying that a number of these wines are available in very limited quantities, so please register your interest as soon as possible.
A brief note on recent vintages
2015 in Piedmont was a very good year, much less challenging than 2014. Summer was hot, but the vines managed to avoid hydric stress thanks to the good water supply in the soil that came from abundant spring rain. The harvest happened at the normal time and the resulting wines show a balanced structure, full bodied, and similar to 2011. In Tuscany, it was a similar story. The summer was very warm, but not as dry as 2017. The vegetative cycle was in advance until August but a cooler second half of August rebalanced the vines and from then on the weather conditions were perfect right through until harvest, resulting in ‘textbook’ phenolic maturation.
2016 will go down as a truly wonderful vintage in many parts of Italy. Not as ‘easy’ as 2015 on the whole, but winter snow helped sanify the vineyards and spring was fresh and windy with a good amount of rain. The summer wasn’t exceedingly hot. Autumn was sunny and dry which was good for the harvest and for the end of the ripening. Generally, the vintage displays high acidity, great aromatic concentration and a good overall balance. In Barbaresco, wines have a similar structure to 2015 but with more elegance and a deeper aromatic profile. Chianti Classico, Friuli and Barbaresco have all received over 95 rating from The Wine Advocate.
2017 for many regions was a hot, dry vintage. In Chianti Classico, for example, there was no heavy rainfall whatsoever from November ‘16 to November ’17; luckily, cool nights and showers in August allowed the vines to survive. In Piedmont, meanwhile, an exceptionally warm March lead to an early budbreak, which left the vines vulnerable when hail hit Barbaresco on April 15th. Here too there was hydric stress, owing to the hot summer, but rain in September revived the parched vines and delayed harvest. Intriguingly, the best ‘17s seem to combine the ripe fruit profile of a warmer vintage with the freshness and readability of terroir one expects from a cooler one.
2018 was no picnic for growers, to put it mildly. From Piedmont, via Tuscany, to as far south as Puglia, balmy temperatures and persistent rain brought the threat of mildew. Nonetheless, growers in most regions reported a successful fruit set. In Tuscany, the rain subsided in mid-June, only to start again in Aug. Localised rain continued in Sept. but harvest here took place largely under blue skies. Piedmont, meanwhile, remained wet into July, but was subsequently sunny. In both regions, a warming breeze at the end of the growing season concentrated the grapes and reduced yields, but has not detracted from the freshness and elegance characteristic of the 2018 vintage.
2019 was noteworthy in Piedmont for a late harvest (by twenty-first century standards) owing to a cold, wet spring which delayed flowering. It was a similar story in the Veneto and Tuscany, where Chianti Classico in particular experienced heavy rain in May. Ultimately, growers were glad of the reserves of water accumulated, as June to September was hot, with incidents of drought and very little rain for most of the country. Yields were generally down on ’18 (by 15-20% in Piedmont, for example) but growers across the key regions reported a high-quality crop, resulting in balanced wines that should please classicists. We look forward to bringing you more 2019s as part of next year’s offer.